Meaning wars

Everyone thinks the attention game is about attention. It is (of course) but it isn’t. It’s about meaning. We give attention to the things that we find meaningful. Attention being a rough proxy our brain provides for meaning.  That means we spend time on, thinking about, sharing the ideas, information and experiences we find meaningful. The mind-changing ideas, the discoveries, the strong emotions. The important stuff right?

Well no.  That’s not always what we spend time on.  But let’s look concretely at some examples.  Think back to when TED talks first started.  Enough of us had the experience when we first watched the videos and got attached to the feeling that we’d just participated in insightful and valuable information.   But then we clicked next video and did it all again.  And again.  And again.  Until eventually 8 hours later we felt stale about the whole idea of receiving an epiphany in a video in bite-sized form.

I don’t watch TED talks any more and I have to ask myself why, and how that fits in the world of me wanting insights and epiphany.  Are these videos interesting but not actionable?  That’s relevant but it’s off the mark.

So why did we click, and why did we pay attention?  And why did it all go wrong?  How did things get unstuck?  These videos call our attention, but don’t matter to us.  Even though they are fascinating and attractive.  An info-hazard: be careful or you will be sucked into “many-ted-talks”, where-did-my-afternoon-go?


Well – meaning.  We seek meaning.  We seek to matter, and we seek to do things we care about.  (this is not insightful, it’s obvious).

When you watch your first video, it’s pretty new, it’s unique and insightful.  The second delivers the same.  And the fourteenth? It doesn’t matter how interesting this one is, it’s probably not the same wonderful feeling as the first video.  It’s getting to be the same delivery of information.  Despite being exciting, it’s also getting old.  It’s losing its meaning…

We start out wanting meaning, we start out getting meaning, and after a while we don’t really get the same thing any more.  We are not designed to notice meaning wearing off – we expect it to keep being there.  Until it’s well and truly worn out so bad that it’s a shock to the system.  The same way that we go blind a little each day and don’t notice until we crash a car.  “that’s how blind we are”.

I think there is insight in the application of meaning to different cultures and how they share information, how they share narratives and what they share.

SJW culture

How different cultures do meaning is worth observing.  A SJW culture shares meaning by describing, packaging and sharing the emotions associated with outrage and offence.  It matters that people are getting hurt and it matters that we are fixing that.  It matters more than joy and happiness, it matters to raise the baseline.  I had a fascinating experience as I was first starting to notice meaning.  I went on a date with a person who was part of Social Justice culture.  They insisted on asking about politics and telling me some key experiences of pain and outrage that someone they knew had experienced.

At the time I indulged by hearing the story.  And at the time my defences against 3rd party emotions kicked in.  I just can’t bring myself to care about 3rd hand outrage.  At first I was confused, why this story?  Why tell it to me? That’s when I realised that this story that was being shared because it mattered.  Because it was meaningful to this person and because being able to connect over these strong emotions is how someone in this culture vets their potential dates and their qualities as an empathic person.  I failed.  And I could tell as it was happening that I was failing.  But it was only days later that I really worked out how and what I had failed at.

In a culture where sharing the experience of strong emotion by one person  – and being empathetic of that experience is how we connect, we need to find those stories to share, and then share them.

The core of what is meaningful in this culture is sharing that emotional experience.

4chan culture

The 4Chan (and shared to the alt-right) culture I appreciate conceptually so much more because of what it does.  It was around before Social Justice but it grew stronger in response to the Social Justice culture.  It derives it’s meaning from creating outrage, then sharing it.  The most outrage you can stir up, the more attention you can get, the more butt-hurt, the more jimmies you can rustle, the better.  In that culture we can celebrate the success of creating outrage where there previously was none.

On the internet, in the early Bieber days, 4Chan created various, “shaving for Bieber” and other sad-for-Bieber phenomenon.  A dual rumour that was shared round the internet was:

  1. Justin Bieber had cancer.
  2. You should shave your head in acknowledgement/solidarity for the fact.

The thing about shock and awe and how this generates maximum outrage, is that not only is 1 not true but 2 does not at all follow.  It’s not clear if, whether; and how many teenage girls were caught in a misinformation storm, and quickly shaved their head, only to be embarrassed when they found out the lack of truth to the matter.

It’s never going to be clear what really happened.  Whether a few people shaved their heads for the cause and were later embarrassed.  Whether a few people had shaved heads and then decided to join the bandwagon since they fit, and were later embarrassed to have done so.  It’s not clear if anyone at all fell for it.

But in the 4chan culture, the creation and propagation of such a rumour is part of what the culture loves.  What is meaningful is to make the most outrage.  It’s a win if anyone shares the story, it’s a win if anyone indulges the story, and it’s an extra win if the conventional media outlets get on board with it.  That’s what’s meaningful.  That’s how you get status, you get attention to your outrage generation.  It’s might be understood as a “troll” but I believe that loses information.  Meaning, and how it is assigned in this culture adds information to the explanation of why troll.

Of course these two cultures enjoy hating each other, it’s in their nature.  SJ can’t stop being outraged and sharing the outrage they feel around the 4chan behaviour, and 4c can’t stop finding ways to generate outrage and get themselves talked about.  In fact each culture helps the other stay alive and grow.  Because it’s about meaning.

These two cultures help each other to grow each other’s meaning maps.  Each could exist without the other.  There will always be events to be outraged at, and there will always be people making outrage where they feel the opportunity presents for the fun of it, but put these two cultures together and they fuel each other.

Facebook Attention Wars

In the Facebook world, each user is limited in time they have each day.  Each user can only give attention to a small fraction of the potential information that is served to them.  Facebook is not AI smart yet.  If it’s an argument, a discussion or the cat pictures.  Facebook only knows that you did partake.  Facebook is agnostic to the reason that you partake.  And in an effort to keep you doing so, it serves you similar content (in a variable fashion to keep you addicted to intermittent reward).

It’s commonly know that the Facebook algorithms are out to get you, they are designed to maximise “time on site”.  If you curate your feed so that you get to see the interesting, relevant (and meaningful) things.  All you end up with is a more attractive place to visit. i.e. you do Facebook’s job for it, of attracting your eyeballs and keeping you there.

Facebook is constantly trying to guess at what you want to give your attention away to, what you find meaningful, and serving it to you.  But it cheats.  And it gets it wrong all the time.  When was the last time you went on facebook and left thinking, “wow that’s exactly what I wanted from that experience”.  I was served perfectly what I wanted to see just now.  Never?

And your friends.  The “attention seekers”, posting whatever drivel will get them the most attention.  They weren’t wrong to try to get attention alone, and they weren’t trying to post drivel.  They were trying to post what was meaningful to them.  (SJ meaningful, 4c meaningful or some other kind of personally meaningful).  If you find it inane drivel then that points to different values, caring about different things, finding meaning in different places.  In seeking attention they were only seeking a proxy for meaning (A very good proxy).  If someone is giving you attention – that can be meaningful to you.  A person giving you attention reminds you that you are important, that you matter.  That external validation of the meaning we all seek.  That’s what receiving attention is.  Validation in a variety of forms that what we care about it.

  • Validation that I agree with what you have to say
  • Validation that we are in the same group/tribe or similar in some way.
  • Validation via respect of each other’s time and ideas
  • Validation that your experiences are significant or relevant to me
  • Validation that what you find meaningful is what I find meaningful

If you don’t like what someone is sharing, posting – how someone is trying to get attention.  You are saying, what is meaningful to you is not meaningful to me.  And so we fail to connect with each other, we Dare Greatly (book by Brene Brown), put ourselves out there, shoot for the stars and accept whatever form of connection we create, or fail to generate by putting out our meaning.  Or we don’t.  We answer, “how are you?” with, “fine, thanks” and successfully stay safely protected from making shared meaning and something to connect over.

In Brene Brown’s theory, it’s called necessary vulnerability.  It’s necessary to be vulnerable by taking a risk and sharing what “matters to you” in order to even have a chance to connect with other people at all.  Brene stops there, because her research was in building connection, in creating loving relationships.  I want to go further to say we do that for the important purpose of finding loving relationships meaningful to us.  And some of us don’t find them meaningful, or don’t expect that we will, so we don’t worry about it.

There are other forms of meaning.  Just like watching too many TED talks leaves us with a feeling that something is missing.  Spending too much time on Facebook also leaves us with a feeling that something is missing.  That is because we also get meaning from other things. Meaning from attention is catchy. It’s self sustaining. But we have so many kinds of meaningful things, experiences, ideas, imagination, creation, feelings – curiosity, legacy, religion (list of common human goals).

What’s meaningful to each of us is whatever we inherently think is meaningful along with what we choose to think of as meaningful. And in that sense, anything is meaningful. If you want it to be.

Everyone wants meaning.  That’s it. To live a meaningful life, think about what you find meaningful and do more of that. Or. Alternatively. Think about what you give your time and attention to. This is your revealed preferences about what you find meaningful.

Want to live a meaningful life? Just live. The meaning is there by what you give your energy to.  Don’t like giving your energy to something?  Maybe it’s not what you find meaningful.  Or you think the payoff is not going to matter.

Do you work for the money?  Or do you do your job for reasons that matter to you above and beyond the money…  Is your job meaningful? or does everything you do from 9-5 add up to what you end up doing with the paycheck at the end of the day.

What if you live and find nothing meaningful in anything you do or see? 

Then…  (you might be depressed, if nothing matters) Nothing is meaningful. The meaning is only there if you want it to be.  Surprise.  It sucks to live like that.  You will find your defences propping up all the time about it.  It’s uncomfortable to think that you lack meaning in your life.  The cognitive dissonance type of uncomfortable.  The kind of uncomfortable that has you reassuring yourself that X or Y that you do does in fact matter.  Or doubling down towards your cookie clicker, farmville or irrelevant other goals in the hope that if you achieve that, the feeling of meaning will be there.  Exactly where you want it.

Or maybe you will go investigate what other people find meaningful and you will end up in religion or politics or family or any number of areas that other people pursue, seeking your own meaning.

Don’t believe me about meaning?  Read Martin Seligman – Flourish (happiness isn’t all of the equation of human wellbeing), Jordan Peterson – Maps of meaning (meaning comes from narrative), Brene Brown – Vulnerability (we need to be vulnerable to connect to one another and that’s really hard), And Marshall Rosenberg – NVC (NVC is big but the part relevant is the acknowlegements and validation that we can provide to each other, even without being on the same side..  I might be wrong, but all these people, they are getting onto something that appears to overlap.

Meta: this took about 3hrs to write, a month to avoid and 2 hours to edit.  And I still don’t like it.

Cross posted:

Posted in models of thinking | 2 Comments

Instrumental experiment: Cut your losses

Epistemic status: Shower thoughts, but also – Actually trying things.

There are times in life where you will have seen the warning signs.  You have watched others fall on your journey.  If anything was the canary in the coal mine, this is it.  The world just tore you a new one and left you bleeding, but you can still walk away with what you have right now. You will be thinking, “should I double down?”.  No.  Now is not one of those times.  There are times when you will have a victory to speak of, you can walk away a champion.  This is not one of those times.  This is a time

This is a time to cut your losses.  You just lost $10k?  You’d be a fool to risk any more energy throwing good after bad.  That’s a cheap mistake.  Better than $20k.  The best action you can take is to cut your losses and go home without any more mistakes.  The best time to exit is before the fall from grace, the second best is to get out before the crash.  Don’t wait till things get worse before you get the hint. There is no need to be proud here.

Every piece of advice lands on a spectrum.  Roughly speaking, a spectrum of “very applicable” to “the opposite of the right thing to do”.  This piece of advice falls somewhere on that line.  And you know who knows where exactly this advice lands?  Future you.  Hindsight is 20/20.  If, like me – you don’t have a time machine.  And you still want to learn these lessons of where to apply this advice – the one way to learn is to try it.  Run experiments.  Learn what works through trial and error.  The only warning I suggest is – don’t take too much risk in making mistakes.

Committing to this advice is to say, “I take the information I have at hand, and I make this choice willingly, based on what I know – this is probably the right decision”.  And who could fault you on that?  I couldn’t.

good luck.

Counterpart: Instrumental Experiment: The Double Down

Counterpart: Instrumental experiment: Cut your losses

Meta: 3 short posts that go together.  But which advice do you follow?

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Instrumental experiment: Quit while you are ahead

Epistemic status: Shower thoughts, but also – Actually trying things.

There are times in life where you will have climbed a mountain.  You have been facing a storm and it’s finally clearing.  The world just cut you a break and you are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. You will be thinking, “should I double down?”.  No.  Now is not one of those times.  There are times when you will have started making some mistakes, it might be time to pack it in for the evening and cut your losses.  This is not one of those times.

This is a time to quit while you are ahead.  You just made $10k?  You’d be a fool to risk any more energy throwing good time after bad.  The best action you can take is to declare victory and go home a hero.  And the best time to exit is before the fall from grace.  Don’t wait till something goes wrong before you get the hint. There is no need to be greedy.

Every piece of advice lands on a spectrum.  Roughly speaking, a spectrum of “very applicable” to “the opposite of the right thing to do”.  This piece of advice falls somewhere on that line.  And you know who knows where exactly this advice lands?  Future you.  Hindsight is 20/20.  If, like me – you don’t have a time machine.  And you still want to learn these lessons of where to apply this advice – the one way to learn is to try it.  Run experiments.  Learn what works through trial and error.  The only warning I suggest is – don’t take too much risk in making mistakes.

Committing to this advice is to say, “I take the information I have at hand, and I make this choice willingly, based on what I know – this is probably the right decision”.  And who could fault you on that?  I couldn’t.

good luck.

Counterpart: Instrumental Experiment: The Double Down

Counterpart: Instrumental experiment: Cut your losses

Meta: 3 short posts that go together.  But which advice do you follow?

Posted in self-improvement | Leave a comment

Instrumental Experiment: The Double Down

Epistemic status: Shower thoughts, but also – Actually trying things.

There are times in life where you will have made a breakthrough.  You will have had a success and you will think, “great, time for a holiday”, I should quit while I am ahead.  This is not one of those times.  There are times when you will have started making some mistakes, it might be time to pack it in for the evening and cut your losses.  This is not one of those times.

This is a time to double down.  You just made $10k?  Time to double it.  Make it $20k.  The best place for action is right here.  And the best time to grab the market by surprise is right now.  Don’t take a break.  Take more actions.

Every piece of advice lands on a spectrum.  Roughly speaking, a spectrum of “very applicable” to “the opposite of the right thing to do”.  This piece of advice falls somewhere on that line.  And you know who knows where exactly this advice lands?  Future you.  Hindsight is 20/20.  If, like me – you don’t have a time machine.  And you still want to learn these lessons of where to apply this advice – the one way to learn is to try it.  Run experiments.  Learn what works through trial and error.  The only warning I suggest is – don’t take too much risk in making mistakes.

Committing to this advice is to say, “I take the information I have at hand, and I make this choice willingly, based on what I know – this is probably the right decision”.  And who could fault you on that?  I couldn’t.

good luck.

Counterpart: Instrumental experiment: Quit while you are ahead

Counterpart: Instrumental experiment: Cut your losses

Meta: 3 short posts that go together.  But which advice do you follow?

Posted in models of thinking, self-improvement | Leave a comment

Problems as dragons and papercuts

When I started trying to become the kind of person that can give advice, I went looking for dragons.
I figured if I didn’t know the answers that meant the answers were hard, they were big monsters with hidden weak spots that you have to find. “Problem solving is hard”, I thought.

Problem solving is not something everyone is good at because problems are hard, beasts of a thing.  Right?

For all my searching for problems, I keep coming back to that just not being accurate. Problems are all easy, dumb, simple things. Winning at life is not about taking on the right dragon and finding it’s weak spots.

Problem solving is about getting the basics down and dealing with every single, “when I was little I imprinted on not liking chocolate and now I have been an anti-chocolate campaigner for so long for reasons that I have no idea about and now it’s time to change that”.

It seems like the more I look for dragons and beasts the less I find.  And the more problems seem like paper cuts. But it’s paper cuts all the way down.  Paper cuts that caused you to argue with your best friend in sixth grade, paper cuts that caused you to sneak midnight snacks while everyone was not looking, and eat yourself fat and be mad at yourself.  Paper cuts.

I feel like a superhero all dressed up and prepared to fight crime but all the criminals are petty thieves and opportunists that got caught on a bad day. Nothing coordinated, nothing super-villain, and no dragons.

When I was in high school (male with long hair) I used to wear my hair in a pony tail.  For about 4 years.  Every time I would wake up or my hair would dry I would put my hair in a pony tail.  I just did.  That’s what I would do.  One day.  One day a girl (who I had not spoken to ever) came up to me and asked me why I did it.  To which I did not have an answer.  From that day forward I realised I was doing a thing I did not need to do.  It’s been over 10 years since then and I have that one conversation to thank for changing the way I do that one thing.  I never told her.

That one thing.  That one thing that is irrelevant, and only really meaningful to you because someone said this one thing, this one time. but from the outside it feels like, “so what”.  That’s what problems are like, and that’s what it’s like to solve problems.  But.  If you want to be good at solving problems you need to avoid feeling like “so what” and engage the “curiosity“, search for the feeling of confusion.  Appeal to the need for understanding.  Get into it.

Meta: this has been an idle musing for weeks now.  Actually writing took about an hour.

Cross posted to lesswrong, lesserwrong

Posted in models of thinking | 1 Comment

Cutting edge technology

When the microscope was invented, in a very short period of time we discovered the cell and the concept of microbiology.  That one invention allowed us to open up entire fields of biology and medicine.  Suddenly we could see the microbes!  We could see the activity that had been going on under our noses for so long.

when we started to improve our ability to refined pure materials we could finally make furnace bricks with specific composition.  Specific compositions could then be used to make bricks that were able to reach higher temperatures without breaking.  Higher temperatures meant better refining of materials.  Better refining meant higher quality bricks, and so on until we now have some very pure technological processes around making materials.  But it’s something we didn’t have before the prior technology on the skill tree.

Before we had refrigeration and food packaging, it was difficult to get your fresh food to survive to your home.  Now with production lines it’s very simple.  For all his decadence Caesar probably would have had trouble ordering a cheeseburger for $2 and having it ready in under 5 minutes.  We’ve come a long way since Caesar.  We’ve built a lot of things that help us stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

Technology enables further progress.  That seems obvious.  But did that seem obvious before looking down the microscope?  Could we have predicted what bricks we could have made with purely refined materials?  Could Caesar have envisioned every citizen in his kingdom watching TV for relatively little cost to those people?  It would have been hard to forsee these things back then.

With the idea that technology is enabling future growth in mind – I bring the question, “What technology is currently under-utilised?”  Would you be able to spot it when it happens?  Touch screen revolutionised phone technology.  Bitcoin – we are still watching but it’s here to stay.

“What technology is currently under-utilised?”

For example “AI has the power to change everything. (it’s almost too big to talk about)”.  But that’s a big thing.  It’s like saying “the internet has the power to change everything” great but could you have predicted google, facebook and uber from a couple of connected computers?  I am hoping for some more specific ideas about which specific technology will change life in what way.

Here are some ideas in ROT13 (chrome addon d3coder):

  • Pbzchgre hfr jvyy punatr jura jr ohvyq gur arkg guvat gb ercynpr “xrlobneqf”
  • Genafcbeg grpuabybtl jvyy punatr vs onggrel be “raretl fgbentr” grpuabybtl vzcebirf.
  • Nhgbzngvba jvyy punatr cebqhpgvba naq qryvirel bs tbbqf naq freivprf. Naq riraghnyyl oevat nobhg cbfg-fpnepvgl rpbabzvpf
  • Vs IE penpxf orggre pbybhe naq fbhaq grpuabybtl (guvax, abg whfg PZLX ohg nyy gur bgure pbybhef abg ba gur YRQ fcrpgehz), jr zvtug whfg frr IE rkcybqr.
  • Znpuvar yrneavat naq fgngvfgvpf unir gur cbjre gb punatr zrqvpvar
  • PEVFCE naq trar rqvgvat jvyy punatr sbbq cebqhpgvba
  • Dhnaghz pbzchgvat jvyy punatr trar rqvgvat ol pnyphyngvat guvatf yvxr cebgrva sbyqvat va fvtavsvpnagyl yrff gvzr.
  • Dhnaghz pbzchgvat (juvyr vg’f fgvyy abg pbafhzre tenqr) jvyy nyfb punatr frphevgl.
  • V jbhyq unir fnvq 3Q cevagvat jbhyq punatr ybpxfzvguvat ohg abj V nz abg fb fher.
    3Q cevagvat unf birenyy qbar n cbbe wbo bs punatvat nalguvat.
  • vs gur pbafgehpgvba vaqhfgel pna nhgbzngr gung jvyy punatr gur jnl jr ohvyq ubhfvat.

As much as these don’t all follow the rule of being consumer-grade developments that might revolutionise the world, I’d like to encourage others to aim for consumer viable ideas.

This matters because this is how you see opportunity.  This is how you find value.  If you can take one thing on my list or your own list and make it happen sooner, you can probably pocket a pretty penny in the process.  So what’s on your list?  Do you have two minutes to think about what’s coming soon?

Cross posted to lesserwrong, lesswrong.

Posted in models of thinking | 1 Comment

Halloween costume: Paperclipperer

Guidelines for becoming a paperclipperer for halloween.


  • Paperclips (some as a prop, make your life easier by buying some, but show effort by making your own)
  • pliers (extra pairs for extra effect)
  • metal wire (can get colourful for novelty) (Florist wire)
  • crazy hat (for character)
  • Paperclip props.  Think glasses frame, phone case, gloves, cufflinks, shoes, belt, jewellery…
  • if party going – Consider a gift that is suspiciously paperclip like.  example – paperclip coasters, paperclip vase, paperclip party-snack-bowl
  • Epic commitment – make fortune cookies with paperclips in them.  The possibilities are endless.
  • Epic: paperclip tattoo on the heart.  Slightly less epic, draw paperclips on yourself.


While at the party, use the pliers and wire to make paperclips.  When people are not watching, try to attach them to objects around the house (example, on light fittings, on the toilet paper roll, under the soap.  When people are watching you – try to give them to people to wear.  Also wear them on the edges of your clothing.

When people ask about it, offer to teach them to make paperclips.  Exclaim that it’s really fun!  Be confused, bewildered or distant when you insist you can’t explain why.

Remember that paperclipping is a compulsion and has no reason.  However that it’s very important.  “you can stop any time” but after a few minutes you get fidgety and pull out a new pair of pliers and some wire to make some more paperclips.

Try to leave paperclips where they can be found the next day or the next week.  cutlery drawers, in the fridge, on the windowsills.  And generally around the place.  The more home made paperclips the better.

Try to get faster at making paperclips, try to encourage competitions in making paperclips.

Hints for conversation:

  • Are spiral galaxies actually just really big paperclips?
  • Have you heard the good word of our lord and saviour paperclips?
  • Would you like some paperclips in your tea?
  • How many paperclips would you sell your internal organs for?
  • Do you also dream about paperclips (best to have a dream prepared to share)


The better you are at the character, the more likely someone might try to spoil your character by getting in your way, stealing your props, taking your paperclips.  The more you are okay with it, the better.  ideas like, “that’s okay, there will be more paperclips”.  This is also why you might be good to have a few pairs of pliers and wire.  Also know when to quit the battles and walk away.  This whole thing is about having fun.  Have fun!

Meta: chances are that other people who also read this will not be the paperclipper for halloween.  Which means that you can do it without fear that your friends will copy.  Feel free to share pictures!

Cross posted to lesswrong:

Cross posted to lesserwrong:

Posted in lesswrong | 1 Comment

Use concrete language to improve your communication in relationships

She wasn’t respecting me. Or at least, that’s what I was telling myself.

And I was pretty upset. What kind of person was too busy to text back a short reply? I know she’s a friendly person because just a week ago we were talking daily, text, phone, whatever suited us. And now? She didn’t respect me. That’s what I was telling myself. Any person with common decency could see, what she was doing was downright rude! And she was doing it on purpose. Or at least, that’s what I was telling myself.

It was about a half a day of these critical-loop thoughts, when I realised what I was doing. I was telling myself a story. I was building a version of events that grew and morphed beyond the very concrete and specific of what was happening. The trouble with The Map and the Territory, is that “Respect” is in my map of my reality. What it “means” to not reply to my text is in my theory of mind, in my version of events. Not in the territory, not in reality.

I know I could be right about my theory of what’s going on. She could be doing this on purpose, she could be choosing to show that she does not respect me by not replying to my texts, and I often am right about these things. I have been right plenty of times in the past. But that doesn’t make me feel better. Or make it easier to communicate my problem. If she was not showing me respect, sending her an accusation would not help our communication improve.

The concept comes from Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. Better described as Non-Judgemental communication. The challenge I knew I faced was to communicate to her that I was bothered, without an accusation. Without accusing her with my own internal judgement of “she isn’t respecting me”. I knew if I fire off an attack, I will encounter walls of defence. That’s the kind of games we play when we feel attacked by others. We put up walls and fire back.

The first step of NVC is called, “observation”. I call it “concrete experience”. To pass the concrete experience test, the description of what happened needs to be specific enough to be used as instructions by a stranger. For example, there are plenty of ideas someone could have about not showing respect, if my description of the problem is, “she does not respect me”, my grandma might think she started eating before I sat down at the table. If my description is, “In the past 3 days she has not replied to any of my messages”. That’s a very concrete description of what happened. It’s also independent as an observation. It’s not clear that doing this action has caused a problem in my description of what happened. It’s just “what happened”

Notice — I didn’t say, “she never replies to my messages”. This is because “never replies” is not concrete, not specific, and sweepingly untrue. For her to never reply she would have to have my grandma’s texting ability. I definitely can’t expect progress to be made here with a sweeping accusations like “she never replies”.

What I did go with, while not perfect, is a lot better than the firing line of, “you don’t respect me”. Instead it was, “I noticed that you have not messaged me in three days. I am upset because I am telling myself that the only reason you would be doing that is because you don’t respect me, and I know that’s not true. I don’t understand what’s going on with you and I would appreciate an explanation of what’s going on.”.

It’s remarkably hard to be honest and not make an accusation. No sweeping generalisations, no lies or exaggerations, just the concretes of what is going on in my head and the concrete of what happened in the territory. It’s still okay to be telling yourself those accusations, and validate your own feelings that things are not okay — but it’s not okay to lay those accusations on someone else. We all experience telling ourselves what other people are thinking, and the reasons behind their actions, but we can’t ever really know unless we ask. And if we don’t ask, we end up with the same circumstances surrounding the cold-war, each side preparing for war, but a war built on theories in the map, not the experience in the territory.

I’m human too, that’s how I found myself half-a-day of brooding before wondering what I was doing to myself! It’s not easy to apply this method, but it has always been successful at bringing me some of that psychological relief that you need when you are looking to be understood by someone. To get this right think, “How do I describe my concrete observations of what happened?”.

Good Luck!

Meta: this post may seem out of place for being a different style to usual.  I am trying out medium and a new style.  These ideas and methods require iteration so apologies for the culture shock in this post being so unusual.

Cross posted to Medium:

Cross posted to lesswrong:

Cross posted to lesserwrong:


Posted in communication, models of thinking | Leave a comment

How to consistently have good days, or Reduce the frequency and impact of bad days

The following is an exercise I composed to be run at the Lesswrong Sydney dojos.  It took an hour and a half but could probably be done faster with some adaptations that I have included in these instructions.

In regards to what are the dojos? I quote Eliezer in the preface of Rationality: From AI to Zombies when he says:

It was a mistake that I didn’t write my two years of blog posts with the intention of helping people do better in their everyday lives. I wrote it with the intention of helping people solve big, difficult, important problems, and I chose impressive-sounding, abstract problems as my examples.

In retrospect, this was the second-largest mistake in my approach. It ties in to the first-largest mistake in my writing, which was that I didn’t realise that the big problem in learning this valuable way of thinking was figuring out how to practice it, not knowing the theory. I didn’t realise that part was the priority; and regarding this I can only say “Oops” and “Duh.”

Yes, sometimes those big issues really are big and really are important; but that doesn’t change the basic truth that to master skills you need to practice them and it’s harder to practice on things that are further away.

Lesswrong is a global movement of rationality.  And with that in mind, the Dojos are our attempt in Sydney to be working on the actual practical stuff.  Working on the personal problems and literal implementation of The plans after they undergo first contact with the enemy.

You can join us through our meetup group, facebook group and as advertised on lesswrong.

Below is the instructions for the Dojo.  I can’t emphasise enough the process of actually doing and not just reading.  If you intend to participate, grab some paper or a blank document and stop for a few minutes to make the lists.  Then check your answers against ours.

If you don’t do the exercise – don’t fool yourself into thinking you have this skill under your belt.  Just accept that you didn’t really “learn” this one.  you kinda said, “that’s great I wish I could find the time to get healthy”  Or “If only I was the type of person who did things.”.  If this is especially difficult for you, that’s okay.  It is difficult for all of us.  I believe in you!

Good luck.

Everyone has bad days.  Each of us will have various experiences dealing with different causes and/or diagnosing, solving and resolving the causes of “bad-days”

With that in mind I want to do a few sets of discussions on factors of a bad day.

Part 1: Set a timer for 3 minutes – Make a list of things bad for state of mind, or things you have noticed cause trouble for you.  {as a group each person shares one}

Review the hints list as a group:

  • routine meds/supplements (supposed to take)
  • have you taken something to cause a bad state? (things you should not take)
  • sleep
  • exercise
  • shower
  • Sunlight (independent of bright light)
  • talk to a human in the last X hours
  • talk to too many humans in the last X hours
  • Fresh air
  • Did I eat in the last X hours
  • drink in the last X hours
  • Am I in pain?  Physical or emotional
  • Physical discomfort, weather, loud noise, bright lights, bad smells
  • Feel unsafe in my surroundings?
  • Do I know why I’m in a bad mood, or not feeling well emotionally?  (remember do not dismiss or judge any answer)
  • When did you last do something fun?
  • Spend 5 minutes making a list of all the little things that are bothering you (try not to solve them now, just make the list) (and if necessary make plans for the ones you can affect).
  • Also possibly distinguish between “why am I feeling bad” and “what can I do to feel less bad/even though I feel bad” (e.g. if you’re stressed about upcoming event or fight you had last night, you might not be able to act on it but you can still do things now that will improve your state or at least get you being productive)

at the bottom of the page: {our bonus list of bad things generated in the dojo}

{As a group – were there any big ones we missed and discussion about what we came up with}

Part 2: {set a timer 3 minutes} Come up with a list of things that are good for your mental state

{Group discussion – each share one}

{optional hints list} {feel free to go through it as a group or glance at it or skip it}

{bonus good stuff list at the bottom}

{as a group discussion – did we miss any big ones?}

Part 3: Possibly ambiguous factors

Now that we have a list of good and a list of bad, we should build a list of possibly ambiguous factors that you can look out for.  For example the weather, allergies, unexpected events – i.e. a death or car accident.

Set a timer 3 minutes – ambiguous factors

{as a group – each name one}

{Any big ones we missed} (discussion)

{bonus ambiguous list at the bottom}

Part 4: The important parts

Now I want you to go through the list and come up with the top 5-10 (or as many as matters) most relevant ones.  From here on in it’s your list, no more sharing so it doesn’t matter to anyone else what’s on it.

{Timer 2 minutes}

Part 5: plan for where to keep the list so it’s most accessible – so that on a bad day you can access the list and make use of it. Could be in an email draft, could be on your phone, could be a note somewhere at home or in a notebook.

Timer 2 minutes – come up with where you will be keeping the list that makes it most useful to you.

{discussions of plans – including double checking of each other’s plans to make sure they seem like they are likely to work}

{assistance if anyone is stuck}

Some ideas:

  • notes app in phone
  • bedroom door poster
  • repeat and memorize
  • “noticing” and asking why, rumination.
  • add to existing lists

{end of exercise and break time}

{bonus list of bad things}

  • supplements
  • private time
  • sun
  • exercise
  • stress (and too much responsibility)
  • sleep
  • alcohol
  • my mother (stress)
  • weather (cold)
  • body temperature
  • sick/headache
  • pain
  • imminent deadlines
  • interpersonal rejection (and the complexities of these)
  • when my wife is unhappy
  • overeating
  • missing out on fun things
  • losing control of my schedule
  • not having a schedule
  • overthinking past failure
  • avoiding things I should do
  • task switching
  • accusations/misunderstandings
  • not sticking to good habits
  • being confrontational
  • need social time
  • bad news on the radio
  • obligation
  • fixating on bullshit
  • getting short with people
  • too much coffee
  • bad test mark
  • not continuing communication (not knowing what to say)
  • junk food
  • not being “myself” enough
  • breaking good routines
  • cold showers in the morning are bad
  • buyers remorse
  • sign up to bungee jumping (felt bad)
  • being unproductive at work
  • something on the mind

{bonus list of good things}

  • weather
  • exercise/swimming, dancing
  • sex
  • big meals
  • supplements
  • sorting my spreadsheets -> feeling on top of my tasks -> congruence of purpose
  • when things work smoothly
  • creating things -> feedback on completion
  • fasting
  • perfect weather
  • shower + bath
  • go for a walk
  • listen to nice music
  • good plan & following it
  • petting a cat
  • weightlifting
  • girlfriend
  • playing instrument
  • feeling connected with someone
  • veg-out in bed
  • good podcast
  • dancing around the house
  • good book/knowledge
  • meditating
  • a balanced day – a bit of everything “good day”
  • napping
  • solving a problem
  • learning knowledge/skill
  • new experiences + with other people
  • lack of responsibility and commitment -> option of impulsivity
  • nature experience (sunsets, cool breeze)
  • discovering nuance
  • progress feedback
  • humour
  • hypnotised to be relaxed
  • 3 weeks sticking to diet and exercise
  • new idea – epiphany feeling
  • winning debate/scoring a soccer goal
  • productive procrastination
  • consider past accomplishment
  • knowing/realising -> feeling the realisation
  • when other people are really organised
  • making someone smile
  • massage giving and receiving
  • hugs
  • deep breathing
  • looking at clouds
  • playing with patterns
  • making others happy
  • good TV/movie
  • getting paid
  • balance social/alone time
  • flow
  • letting go/deciding not to care
  • text chat
  • lying on the floor sleep

{bonus ambiguous list}

  • some foods
  • water
  • sleep (short can feel good endorphins)
  • chemical smells (burning plastic, drying paint)
  • too much internet/facebook
  • coffee buzz
  • conversations
  • helping people
  • humans
  • finding information (sometimes a let down)
  • balance discipline/freedom
  • seeing family
  • junk TV/movies
  • junk food
  • menial chores
  • fidgeting
  • paid work
  • partner time
  • coding binge
  • being alone
  • exercise
  • reading documentation (sometimes good, sometimes terrible)
  • being needed/wanted
  • enthusiasm -> burnout
  • masturbation
  • alcohol
  • sticking to timetable
  • performing below standard
  • sex
  • learning new stuff
  • clubs
  • brain fog
  • breaking the illusions of reality

Meta: this took an hour to write up and a few hours to generate the exercise.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

Posted in life maintenance, self-improvement | Leave a comment

Fish oil and the self-critical brain loop

Disclaimer: you do you, this is a single (several times repeated) anecdata report.  Fish oil is cheap so you can run this experiment at home.

Do you recognise this brain pattern:

Remember that thing you did years ago that was horrible.  Now is a time to think about that and feel bad about it.

Including the variation that looks like, “oh here’s another example” for hours and hours at a time until you are successfully distracted.

Except sometimes it comes when you are idle.  Like catching public transport, waiting for a doctor, or generally doing a task with spare brain cycles.

I usually treat this experience as a chance to learn from my past.  Mainly because the only thing that settles a thought like, “you did this bad thing and you should feel bad” is a thought like, “I have now learnt from my mistakes and if confronted by a similar mistake like that I will now instead do X”.

Or at least that’s one strategy for making it go away.

Another strategy that makes it go away is the one I suggest for the Call Of the Void.

Focus wholly and completely and loudly on the concept.  Let it take your full attention and acknowledge that yes; this is in fact a present danger and experience.  Of course don’t jump, or do anything drastic, just acknowledge the feeling, boldly, sharply, ugly.  Then return as you were to the other tasks at hand.

The strategy is suggested by mindfulness and Acceptance commitment therapy.

You don’t have to stop the feelings.  In fact – the more you try to push a feeling away the more it will come back.  A misconception is that CBT is a thought control strategy.  That’s not true.  CBT has you engage and challenge those thoughts.  Don’t push them away.  Invite them in, declare war on them, ask them for evidence and argue with them till they are beaten down and disproven.

Turns out when I take fish oil, my critical feedback loop brain track goes away.

I have been conducting experiments on myself.  This is the result of iterations, trials and repetition.

I implemented a trigger-action plan, it’s not perfect.

When I notice I am in the brain loop, I mentally check when I last took fish oil.

Literally without fail for several months:

  1. If I purposely go off fish oil to test what happens, later that day, sometimes the next day I will find myself in a critical loop.  Shortly after taking my fish oil the thoughts are gone.
  2. If I accidentally go off fish oil, within 24 hours of not taking fish oil I find myself in a self-critical loop.

Studies also show mixed information that fish oil makes a difference to depression.  I would be willing to advocate trying it out and sticking to it if it helps.  I propose if you have a brain type that causes this critical loop habit often enough or a related brain loop and fish oil can mute the loop, then it could be effective for treating depression.

I can’t explain why this happens.  But I can suggest trying it and reporting back.

Posted in models of thinking, self-improvement | Leave a comment